Sport

Church eye runners-up spot after run of form

Captain Craig Fergusson accepts the league title is Accrington’s, with the table toppers beating Haslingden on Saturday to stretch their lead to 53 points.

Ashar Zaidi has confirmed he will not return for another season at title-chasing Accrington

Church have set their sights on clinching the Lancashire League runners-up spot after continuing their fine run of form at the weekend.

Captain Craig Fergusson accepts the league title is Accrington’s, with the table toppers beating Haslingden on Saturday to stretch their lead to 53 points.

But second place is still within reach for Church having maintained their momentum with a final-over victory at home to Burnley.

That prospect looked a long way off after the Blackburn Road outfit lost five of their opening eight league games.

But not only are Fergusson’s men now unbeaten since June 9, they’ve won the last nine matches they’ve managed to complete.

Last weekend’s win also saw Church, who finished joint-third with Enfield last season, climb above both Haslingden and Enfield into fifth place.

And with five games left this year, they are 16 points behind second-placed Ramsbottom.

“At the start of the season we set out to improve on where we finished last year,” said Fergusson.

“The start that we had didn’t do us any favours but the way we’ve performed over the last 10 games or so is really pleasing.

“Not only have we been winning but we’ve been unlucky with the weather a couple of times; we’ve been in winning positions when games have been rained off.

“Hopefully we can push on, keep grinding those wins out and get a couple of places higher up before the season finishes.”

Fergusson felt his side’s winning habit was a crucial factor in Saturday’s victory.

Church made a promising start as professional Kasun Bodisha took 4-36 to reduce Burnley to 112-8.

Steve Brunt (44) and Cole Hayman (25) then put on 63 for the ninth wicket, though, as the visitors managed to reach 180 all out, Lloyd Aspin with figures of 3-49.

Bodisha then fell for a duck and although Aspin (64) helped Church improve to 116-2, they lost their next six wickets for just 22 runs.

However, Phil Gilrane (31) and Andrew Bentley (13) made an unbroken partnership of 48 for the ninth wicket to see Church home. The scores were tied heading into the final over, with Gilrane claiming the winning runs by hitting the fourth ball for six.

“The first three balls he blocked. I think he was teasing the crowd!” joked Fergusson.

“We felt we let Burnley off near the end, they got 30 or 40 more than they should have. Even so, we were cruising at one point but lost too many quick wickets.

“We were still 43 runs short when Phil and Andrew came in so they batted brilliantly to put on that sort of partnership at the death.

“We know the guys are capable of batting down the order but we shouldn’t have been in that position in the first place.

“We’ve got the confidence in the team at the moment to somehow keep winning games and we pulled that one out of the bag.

“Sometimes things go your way when you’re on a winning run. Earlier in the run we didn’t look like winning certain games but someone stepped up and did the business for us.”

Sam Tucker should be available for Sunday’s home match against eighth-placed Todmorden after being ruled out through illness last weekend.

Despite Saturday’s setback at Church, Burnley bounced back to win the Worsley Cup on Sunday, beating Haslingden by 82 runs.

Accrington are set to lift the other major trophy this season after cementing their position as league leaders.

Ashar Zaidi announced in the week that he won’t be returning for a fourth season at Thorneyholme Road next year, yet the Pakistani professional still delivered a club-record fourth century of the season at Haslingden.

He dismissed rival pro Brenton Parchment for 53 as the hosts made 230-4 and although Accy’s openers – Sam Excell and Simon Hanson – were both out for a duck, Zaidi hit an unbeaten 138 as the champions-elect reached their target in the 36th over with six wickets in hand.

This Sunday Accy host Lowerhouse, who were leading the chase, but slipped to third after their fading title hopes were dealt a blow by Rishton last week.

Shaun Hutchinson took 4-40 as Lowerhouse were restricted to 186-9 and, like Church, Rishton reached their target from the fourth ball of the final over.

The hosts struggled after a fine opening stand by Mo Patel (43) and pro Dan Salpietro (45) but Mick Winkley (24 not out) held his nerve to clinch a three-wicket win.

A trip to rock-bottom Colne this weekend presents a great opportunity for Rishton to maintain their push for a top-nine finish.

Ramsbottom leapfrogged Lowerhouse into second after an 84-run win at Enfield. Hassan Fazal took 5-53 and Greg Jones 3-44 as Enfield bowled the visitors out for 219, Tom Parton scoring 80 and pro Pieter Malan 61.

But Lewis Wright (25) and captain Adam Bracewell (41) had little support as Enfield were bowled out for 135 in the 45th over. They aim to bounce back at Haslingden this Sunday.